Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the DHR or Toy Train, is a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow-gauge railway based on zig zag and loop line technology that runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in the Indian state of West Bengal, India. Built between 1879 and 1881, with 6 zig zags and 5 loops, the railway is about 88 km (55 mi) long. Its elevation level varies from about 100 m (328 ft) at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 m (7,218 ft) at Darjeeling. Four modern diesel locomotives handle most of the scheduled services; however, the daily tourist trains from Darjeeling to Ghum (India's highest railway station), and the Red Panda from Darjeeling to Kurseong and steam enthusiast specials are handled by the vintage British-built B Class steam locomotives. The headquarters of the railway is located in Kurseong.
On 2 December 1999, UNESCO declared DHR as a World Heritage site. Later two more railway lines were added and the site then became to be known as Mountain railways of India.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway History
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 1879-1900
Siliguri, located at the base of the Himalayas, was connected with Calcutta (now Kolkata) by metre gauge railway in 1878. Between Siliguri and Darjeeling, Tonga services ran on a cart road (the present day Hill Cart Road). Franklin Prestage, an agent of Eastern Bengal Railway Company approached the government with a proposal of laying a steam tramway from Siliguri to Darjeeling. Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, formed a committee to assess the feasibility of the project. The proposal was accepted in 1879 following the positive report of the committee. Construction began the same year.
Gillanders Arbuthnot & Company was given the responsibility of construction. By March 1880, the line was extended up to Tindharia. Lord Lytton, the first Viceroy to visit Darjeeling, was conveyed in the train up to Tindharia. The stretch from Siliguri to Kurseong was opened on 23 August 1880, and the Siliguri to Darjeeling track was inaugurated on 4 July 1881. The name of the rail company was promptly changed to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. Initially the alignment of the railroad followed Hill Cart Road; however, it became apparent that in some areas the steepness of the road was more than the locomotives could easily maneuver. In 1882 four loops and four reverses (zig-zags) were constructed between Sukna and Gayabari to ease the gradient. The line was extended by a quarter mile to Darjeeling Bazar in 1886. The Darjeeling station was renovated in 1891, while Kurseong got a new station building and storage shed in 1896, but the railway suffered from an earthquake in 1897 and a major cyclone in 1899.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 1900 to the Present day
By 1909–1910, the DHR was carrying 174,000 passengers and 47,000 tons of goods annually. The first bogie carriages entered service, replacing very basic 4-wheel carriages. DHR extension lines were constructed up to Kishanganj in 1914, and Gielkhola in 1915. At Tindharia the railway works were relocated from behind the loco shed to a new and extensive site.
The Batasia Loop was constructed in 1919, eliminating problems by creating easier gradients on the ascent from Darjeeling. However, the DHR started to face competition from bus services that began operating in the Hill Cart Road, and that took less time than the railway to reach Darjeeling. In 1934, a major earthquake in Bihar shook all of Northeast India. Many buildings in Darjeeling were heavily damaged and the railway was also badly affected, although it soon recovered and played a vital role in transporting repair materials. During World War II, the DHR played a vital role transporting military personnel and supplies to the numerous camps around Ghum and Darjeeling.
After the independence of India in 1947, the DHR was purchased by the Indian Government and was absorbed into the Indian Government Railways organisation and then came under the management of the Assam Railways organisation. In 1952, Assam Railway, including the DHR, became part of the North Eastern Railway Zone and later, in 1958, a part of the Northeast Frontier Railway zone of Indian Railway. In 1962, the line was realigned at Siliguri and extended by nearly 4 miles (6 km) to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to meet the new broad gauge line there. It opened for freight that year and for passengers in 1964. The loco shed and carriage depot at Siliguri Junction were relocated to NJP.
The DHR remained closed for 18 months during the hostile period of Gorkhaland Movement in 1988–1989. The railway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Operators
The DHR and all its movable and immovable assets, including the authentic railway stations, the line, and the track vehicles, belong to the Government of India entrusted to the Ministry of Railways. The Northeast Frontier Railway documented all the elements of the DHR in a comprehensive register. Apart from that, it handles the day-to-day maintenance and management. But moreover, several programs, divisions and departments of the Indian Railways are responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing the DHR. This includes technical as well as non-technical work.
In principle, the only two legal protection mechanisms that apply to the conservation of the DHR are the provisions of the 1989 Railway Act and the stipulations governing public property, which is state-owned and therefore protected.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Current Rolling Stock
Steam Locomotives
All the steam locomotives currently in use on the railway are of the "B" Class, a design built by Sharp, Stewart and Company and later the North British Locomotive Company between 1889 and 1925. A total of 34 were built, but by 2005 only 12 were still in use (or under repair) by the railway.
In 2002, No. 787 was rebuilt with oil firing. This was originally installed to work on the same principle as that used on Nilgiri Mountain Railway No.37395. A diesel-powered generator was fitted to operate the oil burner and an electrically driven feed pump, and a diesel-powered compressor was fitted to power the braking system. Additionally, the locomotive was fitted with a feedwater heater. The overall result was a dramatic change in the appearance of the locomotive. However, the trials testing the refitted locomotive were disappointing and it never entered regular service. In early 2011, it was in Tindharia Works awaiting reconversion to coal-firing.
In March 2001, No.794 was transferred to the Matheran Hill Railway to allow a "Joy Train" (steam-hauled tourist train) to be operated on that railway. It did not, however, enter service there until May 2002.
Diesel Locomotives
Four diesel locomotives are in use: Nos. 601-2, 604 and 605 of the NDM6 class transferred from the Matheran Hill Railway.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Past
In 1910 the railway purchased the third Garratt locomotive built, a D Class 0-4-0+0-4-0
Only one DHR steam locomotive has been taken out of India, No.778 (originally No.19). After many years out of use at the Hesston Steam Railway, it was sold to an enthusiast in the UK and restored to working order. It is now based on a private railway (The Beeches Light Railway) in Oxfordshire but has run on the Ffestiniog Railway, the Launceston Steam Railway and the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Route
The railway line follows the Hill Cart Road which is partially the same as NH 110. For long stretches, the track is simply on the road side. In case of landslides both track and road might be affected. As extended parts of the road are flanked with buildings, the railway line often resembles urban tramway tracks more than an overland line. To warn residents and car drivers about the approaching train, engines are equipped with very loud horns that drown even the horns of Indian trucks and buses. Trains honk almost without pause.
One of the main difficulties faced by the DHR was the steepness of the climb. Features called loops and Z-reverses were designed as an integral part of the system at different points along the route to achieve a comfortable gradient for the stretches between them. When the train moves forwards, reverses and then moves forward again, climbing a slope each time while doing so, it gains height along the side of the hill.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Stations
New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP)
New Jalpaiguri is the railway station that was extended to the south in 1964 to meet the new broad gauge to Assam. Where the two met, New Jalpaiguri was created.
Siliguri Town Railway Station
Siliguri Town was original southern terminus of the line.
Siliguri Junction
Siliguri Junction became a major station only when a new rail line was built to Assam in the early 1950s
From New Jalpaiguri Junction (NJP) to Siliguri Junction the 1,676 mm (5 1⁄2 ft) broad gauge line from New Jalpaiguri to Siliguri Junction runs parallel to DHR.
Sukna Railway Station
This station marks the change in the landscape from the flat plains to the wooded lower slopes of the mountains. The gradient of the railway changes dramatically.
Loop 1
(now removed) Loop No.1 was in the woods above Sukna. It was removed after flood damage in 1991 and the site is now lost in the forest.
Rangtong Railway Station
A short distance above Rangtong there is a water tank. This was a better position for the tank than in the station, both in terms of water supply and distance between other water tanks.
Loop 2
(now removed) When Loop 2 was removed in 1942, again following flood damage, a new reverse, No. 1, was added, creating the longest reverse run.
Reverse 1
Loop 3
Loop No. 3 is at Chunbatti. This is now the lowest loop.
Reverse 2 & 3
Reverses No. 2 & 3 are between Chunbatti and Tindharia.
Tindharia Railway Station
This is a major station on the line due to the workshops located below the station. There is also an office for the engineers and a large locomotive shed, all on a separate site.
Immediately above the station are three sidings; these were used to inspect the carriage while the locomotive was changed, before the train continued towards Darjeeling.
Loop 4
Agony Point is the name given to loop No. 4. It comes from the shape of the loop which comes to an apex, the tightest curve on the line.
Gayabari Railway Station
Reverse 6
Reverse No. 6 is the last reverse on the climb.
Mahanadi Railway Station
Kurseong Railway Station
There is a shed here and a few sidings adjacent to the main line, but the station proper is a dead end. Darjeeling-bound trains must reverse out of the station (across a busy road junction) before they can continue on their climb. It is said that the station was built this way so that the train could enter a secure yard and stay there while the passengers left the train for refreshments.
Kurseong Station also houses a DHR Archive. The one room archive houses several exhibits, artifacts and vintage photos. At the centre of the room a wooden showcase houses several old newspaper article on the DHR.
After Kurseong station, the railway runs through the bazaar. Trains skirt the front of shops and market stalls on this busy stretch of road.
Tung Railway Station
Sonada Railway Station
Rangbul Railway Station
Jorebungalow Railway Station
This is a small location near Darjeeling and a railway station on Darjeeling Himalayan railway. Jorebungalow was store point for tea to Kolkata. It is a strategically important place to connect Darjeeling to rest of the country.
Ghum Railway Station
Ghum, summit of the line and highest station in India. It was once the railway station at highest altitude worldwide and is the highest altitude station for a narrow-gauge railway. The station building now includes a museum on the first floor, with larger exhibits in the old goods yard.
Batasia Loop
The loop is 5 km (3.1 mi) from Darjeeling, below Ghum. There is also a memorial to the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives after the Indian Independence in 1947. From the Batasia Loop one can get a panoramic view of Darjeeling town with the Kanchenjunga and other snowy mountains in the back-drop.
Darjeeling Railway Station
The terminus of the line.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in Popular Culture
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has long been viewed with affection and enthusiasm by travelers to the region and the Earl of Ronaldshay gave the following description of a journey in the early 1920s:
"Siliguri is palpably a place of meeting... The discovery that here the metre gauge system ends and the two foot gauge of the Darjeeling-Himalayan railway begins, confirms what all these things hint at... One steps into a railway carriage which might easily be mistaken for a toy, and the whimsical idea seizes hold of one that one has accidentally stumbled into Lilliput. With a noisy fuss out of all proportion to its size the engine gives a jerk— and starts... No special mechanical device such as a rack is employed— unless, indeed, one can so describe the squat and stolid hill-man who sits perched over the forward buffers of the engine and scatters sand on the rails when the wheels of the engine lose their grip of the metals and race, with the noise of a giant spring running down when the control has been removed. Sometimes we cross our own track after completing the circuit of a cone, at others we zigzag backwards and forwards; but always we climb at a steady gradient— so steady that if one embarks in a trolley at Ghum, the highest point on the line, the initial push supplies all the energy necessary to carry one to the bottom."
The trip up to Darjeeling by rail has changed little since that time, and continues to delight travelers and rail enthusiasts, so much so that it has its own preservation and support group, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society. Like Tea and the Ghurka culture, the DHR has become not only an essential feature of the landscape but also an enduring part of the identity of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in Film
Several films have portrayed the railway. Especially popular was the song Mere sapno ki rani from the film Aradhana where the protagonist Rajesh Khanna tries to woo heroine Sharmila Tagore who was riding in the train. Other notable films include Barfi!, Parineeta and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on Television
  • The BBC made a series of three documentaries on the Indian Hill Railways, first shown in February 2010.
  • The first film covers the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
  • The second the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
  • The third the Kalka-Shimla Railway.
  • The films were directed by Tarun Bhartiya, Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly and produced by Gerry Troyna.
  • The series won the UK Royal Television Society Award in June 2010.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Operational Detail
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Terminus: Darjeeling
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Built by: Franklin Prestage
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Operated by: Northeast Frontier Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Railway Stations: 12
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Length: 88 km
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Preserved gauge: 2 ft (610 mm)
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Opened: 1879
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Headquarters: Elysia Place, Kurseong
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway UNESCO World Heritage Site
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Criteria Cultural: (ii), (iv)
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Reference: 944
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Inscription: 1999 (23rd Session)
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Route
Darjeeling Bazaar
0 km 0 mi Darjeeling
Batasia Loop (Loop Nº 5)
7 km 4 mi Ghum
Jor Bungalow
16 km 10 mi Sonada
24 km 15 mi Tung
Zig zag
31 km 19 mi Kurseong
38 km 24 mi Mahanadi
Zig zag Nº 6
44 km 27 mi Gaya Bari
Agony Point (Loop Nº 4)
50 km 31 mi Tindharia
Zig zag Nº 3
Zig zag Nº 2
Loop Nº 3
Zig zag Nº 1 (opened 1942)
Loop Nº 2 (removed 1942)
62 km 39 mi Rang Tong
Hill Cart Road
Loop Nº 1 (removed 1991, repl. w/ longer route) 
Hill Cart Road
Mahananda Sanctuary
Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
Hill Cart Road
70 km 43 mi
Road marker NH 31
80 km 50 mi
Siliguri Junction
80 km 50 mi
Siliguri Junction
Mahananda River
Burdwan Road
Vivekananda Road
Hill Cart Road/St. Feeder Road
83 km 52 mi
Siliguri Town
Bagrakote level crossing
broad gauge lines
88 km 55 mi New Jalpaiguri 
elev. 100 metres (330 ft) (opened 1964) 
Meets broad gauge lines

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